As long as I can remember, I’ve struggled to fall asleep at night.
As a kid, I remember lying awake in my bed until the early hours of the morning, tossing and turning in a futile effort to sleep. Late at night, I would glance at my alarm clock with dread, knowing even if I were to drift off that very second, I still wouldn’t get anywhere near the recommended eight hours of shuteye.
Classic techniques like laying still or counting sheep never did the trick – each time I would try to lay completely still, some random body part would start to feel itchy and I couldn't resist the urge to scratch. As for emptying my mind, I’d try to “turn off my brain,” but nighttime seemed to be when my thoughts would race.
While I don’t know if I have an actual sleep disorder like insomnia, these issues have persisted into adulthood and it still takes me anywhere from one to three hours, on average, to fall asleep.
However, while getting to dreamland any earlier than 11 p.m. remains a futile endeavour, in the past few weeks I have decided to finally do something about my sleep quality. I’ve developed a nighttime routine to follow during the work week, and abiding by these rituals has dramatically eased my nightly struggle to fall asleep.
The first step is to put my phone and laptop away at least two hours before I get into bed. This is the most important step, as emission of blue light has proven to harm sleep quality and affect circadian rhythm, according to a 2015 study from Harvard University.
After putting away my devices, I usually go for a very slow walk outside for about 20 minutes. After returning home, I have a hot shower and then do 20 minutes of stretches while listening to slow, relaxing music – the kind people listen to while meditating or practicing yoga.
Finally, I get into bed with a mug of sleepy-time tea – usually an herbal blend that combines chamomile and lemongrass – and read a book, magazine or newspaper for about an hour. Right before I turn out the lights, I rub some clary sage on my temples, neck and wrists, and then turn on an essential-oil diffuser with a few drops of lavender in it.
I acknowledge it’s a pretty extensive routine, and I confess I haven’t followed it to a T every single night. But when I have, the result has been a noticeable improvement in my sleep quality – and it definitely beats counting sheep.